YOKOKAMA – Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi apologized to a 13-year-old boy for the municipal government’s failure to act swiftly when he was bullied in elementary school for being a nuclear evacuee from Fukushima Prefecture.
The mayor said Wednesday that she vowed to the boy, now in junior high school, and to his mother to more seriously tackle bullying.
After his case surfaced last November, a slew of similar incidents in other parts of the country came to light, prompting the central government to request that schools with evacuees from Fukushima, the center of the 2011 nuclear disaster, check to see whether they had been discriminated against.
In the Yokohama case, the bullying began after the second-grader transferred to a Yokohama elementary school in 2011. He was called “germ” as a reference to nuclear contamination by his teacher and forked over ¥1.5 million ($13,500) in apparent extortion fees to his classmates.
A board of education investigation concluded the boy had been bullied, and the board later acknowledged the payments resulted from the bullying.
In a 15-minute meeting with the mayor at City Hall, the boy said: “Unless bullying is recognized (by authorities), we feel as if no one will fight together with us. I don’t want anyone to suffer the way I did,” according to a lawyer representing the student.
The mayor said she told the boy and his mother, “We will side with the feelings of the children from now on.”
Yuko Okada, head of the board of education, apologized at the meeting as well.
The boy’s mother said she hopes the case will reform the way the city deals with the problem in the school system.
The government released in April its first nationwide survey on the bullying of child evacuees from Fukushima and found 129 cases had transpired in the academic year ended in March and 70 more in previous years.
Among the 199 cases, 13 had obvious links to the man-made nuclear disaster or the mega-quake and tsunami that triggered it.
The survey showed that some of those who were bullied were told to go back to Fukushima or stay away under the false premise that they would contaminate others with radiation.